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What Exactly is Snuff?

The practice of smoking snuff gained popularity in England in the late seventeenth century. It had become known at a later time in France and Scotland due to the country’s contact with France and the French Court.

For many years, the sign used to signify the location of a store that sold tobacco was an image of a Scottish Highlander in full kilt, cut into wood. The design was intended to resemble the Indian signs for cigar stores in North America.

It is thought that the practice of smoking snuff was first introduced from Central as well as South America before the advent of the Spaniards. It is probable that the latter were the ones that first introduced the practice to Europe.

Louis XIII of France forbade the use of snuff other than as prescribed by physicians. The time was when they believed, as many still do, that snuff kept one from colds and relieves catarrh, and other ailments.

It was Pope Urban XIII ordered that anyone who was found guilty of taking Snuff in the church should be banned from the church.

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Tsar Michael I of Russia decreed that smokers be punished for the first offense and executed after the second, whilst snuff users should be treated gentler – they were merely to have their noses removed!

SP Snouff is widely considered to be the most commonly-used blend. Its name was coined following a naval battle off the shore of the Spanish port of Vigo, in 1702. The French fleet was there to defend the rich Spanish convoy of galleons. It had left to the West Indies following an attack which was launched by a coalition of English with a Dutch fleet. It was under the command of Admiral Sir George Rooke.

One ship The Torbay – under the command of Vice-Admiral Hobson the Vice-Admiral Hobson – was becalmed, and sunk in a dangerous position. A contemporary chronicler writes:

“All this while Admiral Hobson was in extreme danger due to being thrown onto the board by an French Fireship which caused his rigging was lit on fire He was sure to be burnt, but it was very fortunate to be that French ship, which was a Merchantman laden with snuff, and fitted with the speed of the role of a Fireship before being blown up with snuff. The snuff somehow, put out the fire, and preserved the English Man of War from being consumed.”

The war, for which Hobson was awarded a knighthood and an allowance of PS500 and was the main reason for the emergence of the popular style of taking snuff in England. The loot from the captured Spanish galleons comprised a substantial amount of snuff that was later available for purchase in London.

As ‘Spanish’ by the clerks, they then abbreviated it to ‘SP’, giving the most loved combination of all.

By the eighteenth century, smoking snuff became commonplace throughout the globe. Snuff boxes, which were usually heavily ornamented, were worn as jewelry and were given as precious gifts. The lids of these were typically decorated with miniature scenes of the period that included allegories romantic scenes of pastoral beauty and flowers.

They are revered as highly sought-after examples of the best miniature painting as well as enamellers, jewellers, silversmiths.